Reliever Keynan Middleton is back, and the Seattle Mariners’ bullpen has to be happy.

Middleton, who had been out since May 5 with a strained bicep, looked strong in his return on Friday night against the San Diego Padres. In fact, the righthander looked a lot like the budding young talent the Mariners had hoped to be getting this offseason.

Middleton pitched one scoreless inning with a walk in a losing effort for the Mariners. But his strong appearance is another sign that the promising pitcher is returning to pre-Tommy John form. 

 

 

Once dubbed the closer of the future for the Los Angeles Angels organization, Middleton has shown flashes of dominance out the pen.

During the 2020 season, the average velocity of his fastball returned to pre-TJ form (97.1) while he had also added four mph to his slider and changeup. Despite his return to form physically, the Angels decided to cut ties with the promising reliever this offseason, which led to the Oregon native heading back to the Pacific Northwest.

Now in Seattle, Middleton has been able to showcase the velocity and spin that many in the Angels’ organization were unsure was back for good. 

 

 

As a result of his recent success, many around the Mariners’ organization think he may force manager Scott Servais into a tough decision.

“The returned fastball velocity is one thing — Middleton probably needs it if he hopes to be a solid reliever,” writes SB Nation’s Michael Ajeto. “But an improved slider is his second prerequisite if he hopes to exist in the form of a potent, dominant reliever … If Middleton continues to surge with his fastball velocity and slider, he may add to that. And within a matter of weeks, that may mean putting Rafael Montero out of a job.”

The Black Relief Pitcher

The emergence of Middleton as a dominant reliever would place him amongst a very small distinguished group. The majority of conversations surrounding the lack of Black pitchers in the major league have focused strictly on starting pitching, but there has been little attention given to the lack of Black relief pitchers.  

We rightfully speak of the Black Aces with reverence, but when we begin to speak of legendary Black relievers, most fans simply don’t know where to begin. We remember names like Flash Gordon and Lee Smith, but that’s where most conversations end. 

READ MORE: Hank Aaron Invitational Coaches Reflect on Legacy of 2019 Hall of Famer Lee Smith

This lack of representation in bullpens across the sport is why Middleton’s resurgence is so important. Gordon and Smith are both Top 100 all-time in saves, yet are barely mentioned when we speak of the greatest relievers of all time. 

 

 

At just 27 years old, Middleton has the potential to build a reputation as one of the best relievers in the game. Boasting a 3.86 ERA with a .86 WHIP in 11 2/3 innings, all the tools are there. 

Only time will tell if he can put it all together, but we’ll be keeping a close eye on him here at MLBbro.com.

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